What is wabi-sabi?

Michael Perry reveals an ancient Japanese garden style called wabi-sabi, that allows you to garden less intensively.

Wabi-sabi is the Japanese way of letting a garden be a garden. Image: Michael Perry
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I am so lucky to spend time in Japan each year, lecturing and demonstrating at the fabulous Barakura English Garden in Nagano. However, on my last trip, I had something very different on my mind, and something you wouldn’t expect from the Japanese.

Let plants grow in cracks in walls. Image: Pixaby

There’s a philosophy in Buddhism called wabi-sabi, and it’s all about ageing gracefully and appreciating beauty in imperfection. Wabi-sabi encourages people to relax, be more thoughtful and to embrace asymmetry and informality in form. When you translate this movement to gardening, it can only be good news! At last, we can relax about our gardens and their style, rather than feel guilty at it’s seeming dishevelment.

So, you may imagine all Japanese gardens are pristine and super tidy; with raked gravel, preened and pruned trees, and delicate shrubs. This is not always the case, those whom practice wabi-sabi in Japan approach their garden with a more relaxed manner. They allow algae to cover stones, let rust to creep along metals, and leave the plants to grow where they want to (within reason!)

So, the way you garden now has a name. And, you know what, you’re on trend too!

Let plants grow where they want and not worry too much about what they grow with. Image: Michael Perry

Wabi-sabi is the expression of allowing nature to ‘do it’s thing’! Buddhist teachings encourage those following the philosophy to celebrate how nature and manmade objects can work together, and how they can change and evolve.

Embracing wabi-sabi in your garden means you can:

• Allow plants to grow through gravel pathways and between paving slabs.
• Relax your border planting to allow plants to through, up and around each other.
• Don’t be so quick to clean up moss on stones and rocks, (or encourage it with yoghurt!)
• Consider investing in some vintage metal sculptures from the breaker’s yard
• Leave the seed-heads on your plants, it adds an architectural edge and is great for the birds too!

The feeling of knowing your relaxed about your garden can help you to relax in it too. So, say goodbye to worrying about weeding and endless chores. Instead, brew some green tea and sit in your wabi-sabi zone!

Michael Perry

About Michael Perry

Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan. Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media - so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook.
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